General discussion

8/6/05 Simple solutions for organizing your digital photos

Thank you for all the submissions this week. I encourage all of you who have more recommendations or questions on this topic to post below in this thread. This way we can all learn the best way we can get our digital photos nice and organized.

Thanks again everyone!
-Lee Koo
CNET Community


Hi, CNETers! I hope you can help me out. I've been saving
digital photos on my XP system for about three years. Now they
are scattered throughout my hard drive, and I can never find
one when I want to (I'll admit, I'm unorganized). I'm open to
any solution or tips (with or without the help of a good
software utility) that will help me organize my pictures. I
need something simple so that my mother can click through them
when she visits. Thanks.

--Submitted by: Dusty K. of Baltimore, Maryland

(Answers by members are found in the thread below.)

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yea. photo you have recommends on discs to use?

This is perfect timing, funny how simple these things are, yet hard to find....thanks harley and dusty!
Now any recommends on disc's to use? special types?
for best picture storage and views?
I was just telling my husband to find all my scattered photos on our old comp, and put them together to put on disc, because the comp is messed up and i need to dump everything for a reinstall of XP. I got the ''memorex black CD-R'' for music, will this work for photos?
thanks jaccie

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CDs for Photo storage

I work in an archives and this is a constant topic of discussion and research. The only CD I trust our (and my own) pictures on is Mitsui Gold CD-R's (never use CD-RWs for long term storage). I have yet to have any fail and that includes not only photos, we have migrated some 5,000 hours of analog audio tape recording to the Gold CDs as well.

Purchasing them is not the most convenient, but well worth the effort. You will need to order these online because they are professional quality and usually not available locally. Mitsui golds are made with real gold (not just tinted gold like the ones you will find in local stores). Silver and other tinted metalics will tarnish. The key to longevity is the ability to reflect so the computer can read the disc, the dye is also a crucial part of the formula and Mitsui's is pretty much unbeatable. Mitsui has a patented dye and control their own dye process and formula, unlike others who subcontract. They are comparable in cost and based on personal experience, well worth it.

So even if you copy to another brand for now, copy them to Mitsui Gold cds as soon as possible. You can find Mitsue CDs at www. but do a search on google and you will find others as well. Look for a close location because of shipping.

Whatever you do, MAKE AT LEAST 2 copies, one to use and the other to store, unused, in a safe place. Ideally it is a good idea to store a set in a couple of places, like a safe deposit box, relatives houses that live in a place that has relatively moderate temperatures and little humidity.

CDs should be stored in a cool, dark place as much as possible. Use only an archival felt pen made to write on CDs and write only in the center, not on the metalic surface. Keep the CDs in a case that protects and keeps the cd up off the surface. And as an extra course of protection, find a free or low cost online storage site like and upload your pictures there as well so that you have a backup that does not require you go to someones house if you can't locate your disc, you can just go online and download a copy.

Once DVD manufacturers decide on a universal standard(an issue still being fought over) you can transfer to Gold DVDs. There are other solutions, but Gold CDs are a good, if not the best, option at the moment. A good general rule for long term storage is the more formats the better.

Hope this helps, Sharon

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one problem

I had one issue that cane to mind when I read this solution, that being the dangers of saving files on desktop, in past experience when you loose or sorrupt windows it is the desktop folders you also loose- should the create a folder in c drive and simply put a shortcut to desktop

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Organizing photos on computer

Great ideas. I'm an amateur photographer and since I began in 1999 with digitals I have always kept my originals by month and year (or just by year) in folders. Then I make folders for subjects I'm shooting (i.e., cats, florals, family, kids, roses, name of town, nature, and so on). It works very well for me especially if I keep up with it. I simply put Explorer to view thumbnails and drag them into whatever folder they belong. I either put the originals as a subfolder or right with the "manipulated" photos (some places ask for the originals if you sell or compete).

I use either Picassa (free from Google) or Corel's Paint Shop Pro Browser (a fantastic way to view and do anything you wish with a photo) OR PSP's new Album which is wonderful for making albums and organizing photos.

But the real trick is to keep up. I got behind due to other issues recently, and I'm paying for it. Happy

Here's to organization. (Old manager here!) Wink

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(NT) Photo Organizing with XP.

Instead of copying the pictures to the newly created folder, just drag and drop them (point to pictire or file, click and continue to hold the mouse button down on the picture, and move it anywhere over the file, and release the mouse button).

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I hate to be the one but bad idea!

Do you really want to search every jpeg/gif in your computer ?? and end up with say, artwork from another program plus.... the 'u know what' that your mother should never end up clicking on? Besides, even e-mails with such graphics end up in your cache...

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Picasa2 worries me

Here I was ready to download and try Picasa2 ater all these suggestions pointing to it until I read the following 2 statemets:

Woody38 said: If all your files are already neatly organized in folders and subfolders as Joe Ciccone's obviously are you don't need to make that first rough cut, but it is important to do that before you run Picassa. For example, I have tens of thousands of .tif files which are documents that I use in my work. Picassa will find them and bring them into the program creating a real mess.

Why does he say, "it is important to do that before running Picassa"? and more worrysome is when he says, "creating a real mess". What kind of mess?" How? Why?

ALso worrysome is Mustang 3 when s/he says, "have scanned pictures into picasa but when I try to save them to a folder, it erases the folder with every new picture."
Erases the folder??? Eeek!
Other also suggested that for those who are a little moe tech savy there is better software than Picasa2? WHat are they please, and if possible, why are they better?

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Simple solutions for organizing your digital photos

This helped me a lot! I do open several folders to locate my photos. I wish I would have thought of this! Thanks! aimbsl

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Organize your Digital Photos

Hi Dusty,

I can offer you a few tips since I have been there, done that etc....

First I have tried a few strategies and ended up using one I came up with. First create a Photos folder. Create it on a secondary hard drive if you have one, if you don't create it on your "C:" drive. The reason why I say use another drive other than your system drive is because if something does fail 9 times out of 10 it will be the drive that has the operating system files on it. If you don't have a secondary hard drive this is the time to think about adding another hard drive to your system. If you value your photos like I do, there is no better excuse to fork-up some $80 of peace of mind!

In that folder create a subfolder structure that is meaningful for you. For example: 2004 summer vacation, Family photos "XX" family, and so on. The idea here is not to dump onto a generic folder all the photos but to put them in a location where you can find them. Novel idea right! Well in a nutshell that saves you several hundreds of hours of pain and agony when you are trying to setup your slideshow and can't find them. Another piece of advise is to rename with meaningful names all your photos and never save the photos with the generic name the camera give you (DSF0001.jpg, RCF002.jpg, etc.) If you leave these the way they are and pile more into the same folder you still have the problem, but better organized!

These tips serve me well and now I can count on being able to find my photos. As soon as the folder becomes bigger (you can determine that yourself) I burn a CD with the same folder structure. If you don't you are just adding another level to the confusion. After I burn the CD I erase the files from the hard drive leaving the file structure intact.

Well that's it. Hope this helps. I know it has helped me.


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''Ctrl'', NOT ''Shift''

Unlike most of the wiz kids who have vilified your response in favor of championing their favorite application, I think your approach, while labor intensive, should work well enough. ''.TIFF'' and ''.RAWW'' formats are much rarer than ''.JPG'' and found mostly on higher end digital cameras or digital SLR's. If you search for those, especially ''.TIFF'', you're very likely to collect a whole bunch of application used images. Also, ''.GIF'' file extensions are almost exclusively system or application files.

We should bear in mind the suggestions of IrisRose and the commenter who mentioned Picassa's limitation -- namely that it can collect ALL image files on the PC. Finally, although it is better to use ''Move to folder'' rather than copying and pasting (why leave second copies scattered all over your PC taking up space but of no use), make VERY SURE that the images are, in fact, YOUR SNAPSHOTS and not images used by one of your other applications.

Once you have selected a group of images, right-clicking and dragging them to the folder you intend to use (either on the ''Desktop'' or in the ''My Pictures'' folder in Windows Explorer) should then give you a contextual menu pop-up offering the choice of copying, moving, or canceling the operation. If you then discover that you've moved an image you shouldn't have, highlight the file(s) moved in error and then use the ''Undo Move'' command under ''Edit'' on the menu bar for Explorer. This, of course, means that you should review the images as thumbnails after each move and before the next move operation. Otherwise, it may be very difficult to determine the original location of the image file moved erroneously. See below for methods of selecting (highlighting) files.

I have just one correction on Harley's suggestion and a few additional suggestions if you go that route. To selectively pick a DISCONTINUOUS series of images, click each file while holding down the ''Ctrl'' key, NOT the ''Shift'' key. If MOST of the images you find are yours and need to be moved, you may find it better to choose ''Select All'' under ''Edit'', then, while holding down the ''Ctrl'' key, left-click each wrong file to deselect it. If the number of images selected with ''Select All'' is too overwhelming, choose a series of images by using the ''Shift'' key as follows. Holding down the ''Shift'' key will select ALL files in a list between the first and next file left-clicked, or between any file already highlighted and the next file clicked as long as the ''Shift'' key is depressed. Remember, when we say ''hold down'' either the ''Ctrl'' or ''Shift'' keys that we don't mean you can't take your finger off of it, only that it must be depressed BEFORE clicking the relevant files.

I find that the ''Details'' view is much easier to use for the type of file selection discussed above. If you didn't name your photos before saving, and, like most of us, you upload a whole batch of photos at one time, sorting the image files by date by clicking ''Date Created'' or ''Date Modified'' label at the top of the respective column should yield series of photos grouped around the dates you performed those uploads. If you don't see those columns under the ''Details'' view, you can add them easily by clicking ''Choose Details'' under ''View''. Once you find a whole group of images with the same creation or modification date, highlight the first image, then briefly switch to the ''Thumbnail'' view to verify the images are what you want, then choose the ones to move as discussed. You might also consider naming at least the first image of each series with a meaningful name at this point (right click-->''Rename'', but leave the ''.jpg'' extension at the end) before moving. That way, you can easily find and move each series of related photos into an appropriately named subfolder to facilitate finding the groups later.

I don't know how accustomed you are to working with the folder view in Windows Explorer, but it has the same types of views, so you can still find groups of date-related photos once you've moved them. Right clicking in the right (''Details'') area of the main photo folder you decide to use gives a submenu choice which includes ''New->''. Clicking that should offer ''Folder'' as one of the choices. Name it appropriately (e.g., ''Beach Vacation, 8/05''), then select the series of related photos as already described, right-click one any of the highlighted files and drag the entire mess into the new folder, making sure that it (the new folder), and only it, highlights BEFORE RELEASING THE RIGHT MOUSE BUTTON. Then select ''Move Here'' from the pop-up menu.

Finally, make sure to configure the upload software that came with your camera to always use the main photo storage folder you create, and, if possible, create a new, named subfolder within that folder for each upload in the future. The Users Guide or Help menu should explain if this is possible. If not, create the subfolder manually (see above) after each future upload and name it right away before it slips away. That way, you won't have to repeat this process in the future.

Hope these added comments help.

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Good Idea

Harley, good idea! I would suggest a cut and paste, though, just to keep the confusion down. Three years learning a computer may not be a long time some some folks. One of the basic computer lessons many users are not given is organizing their data in a simple way. Within the "My Pictures" folder should be sub folders where the user would store their photos either by date or event. I have settled on putting my personal pictures in folders by the year, then event. Ex.: a folder called 2004 with a subfolder labelled Christmas.

I use a similar system for all my documents. ex: "My Documents" subfolders: "Personal" "Real Estate" "Poems", etc.

This forum is usually a "positive" one. Name calling is not a mature way of making positive suggestions! No one here is dumb! Just participating is a smart move!

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Answer submitted by Mark R.


I feel your pain. Keeping files organized can be a difficult thing to do. I have had many ideas about where to store things that made sense when I saved them, but weren't very obvious when I went back a couple of weeks later and tried to find them! I have also spent a lot of time trying to reorganize the files, but there never seems to be enough time to do them all.

There are a lot of different picture organizers available, but the one that I chose for my wife and my parents is Picasa from Google. You can get it from - it is free. Some of the programs that will help you organize your pictures assume that you know your way around the computer, and they have a higher learning curve than Picasa. They are more robust in many ways, but for your needs ("something simple so that my mother can click through them when she visits") I think Picasa is what you want.

Picasa will scan your hard drive and find all of the pictures on it.
It then shows you a "tree" on the left side of the screen with the folders that the files are in. Clicking on a folder will give you a thumbnail view of the pictures in that folder. So to start with, you can finally find the pictures no matter where they are. Picasa also allows you to reorganize the pictures and rename the folders and pictures so that they make more sense to you. There is also some basic editing available in the program.

The biggest advantage of Picasa is the ability to add information to the pictures to make it easier to find them. You can assign a label to the picture so that you can search for things like "Birthday" or "Vacation". The label allows you to add information about where and when the picture was taken, and you can search those fields as well.

Another nice feature of Picasa is the ability to create "Albums" of pictures so that when your mother comes to visit she can look at the pictures that you have added to the albums. It beats the Search functionality, and the albums can even be e-mailed to other people with a built-in viewer so they can see them without having to download and install Picasa.

It will take some time to organise all of the pictures, especially if you add labels, but it CAN be done. My wife had almost 5 years worth of pictures scattered across her hard drive, and could never find them when she wanted. I downloaded Picasa and worked with her on how to use it. After a couple of weekends she had managed to find pictures that she had forgotten about, and had an organized way (to her) of storing and finding the pictures. The time she saves with the folders and albums has more than made up for the time it took to get them organized in the first place.

I hope this helps, and happy organizing!

Submitted by: Mark R.
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photo organiser

Can anyone recommend a good photo organising software for a Mac G3 - OS 8.6


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Do you have problems with crashes. I get them all the time under a variety of conditions. I will not bore you with the list. Just curious, I am working to try to isolate and correct the problem is possible.


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mac9 with os8.6?

Do you mean an iMac with 8.6? It upgrades to 9.0. 9.1, 9.2 and then you have to buy Jaguar, Panther and Tiger, all of which cost under $500 total. Tiger I know has iPhoto on it so it's easily organized and those you don't want can be gotten rid of. Of course, the best thing to do is get rid of the dinasour you use and buy an iMac G5 with the 160gb hd. it comes with Tiger. Spend some money. It pays off in the long run.

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Picasa bugs

Picasa is a great program; functional, easy to use, and best of all, free. But I've found two major bugs in version 2.
First of all, hidden folders don't stay hidden. When you hide a folder , you are asked for a password to view the folder but often when you first boot Picasa, hidden folders are opened and viewable without entering your password.
Second, the slide show doesn't always automatically advance as it should. You sometimes have to restart it several times to get it going and then when you pause on a slide and then restart the auto advance the same thing happens again and the advance can only be done manually.
I've written to Picasa customer service about these issues and they said they were aware of the problems and would fix them in a future release.

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Is Picasa better then My Documernts My Pictures

Is Picasa, or indeed any other programme better for organising your photos than simply storing them in My Documents, My Pictures which I use?

I make a new folder for each topic or batch of photos, and name it first by date then topic. My using date first it keeps my folders in chronalogical order which I like.

I'm quite happy with this but have one problem. If I re-name the individual photos they then appear in alphabetical order and I want them to stay in the order I took them. Would Picasa help?

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Just number...

That's the exact thing I was thinking. I just create folders in "my pictures" and stay organized that way. (I would never just randomly save anything on my computer. I have way to linear a personality and need to have things organized.) solve the problem of them going out of order when you rename them. I just simply number the photos! Call them what you wish, but put a number in front so they always stay that way. Works on both my ibook and my Dell. Have fun!

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Just number...

That's the exact thing I was thinking. I just create folders in "my pictures" and stay organized that way. (I would never just randomly save anything on my computer. I have way too linear a personality and need to have things organized.) solve the problem of them going out of order when you rename them. I just simply number the photos! Call them what you wish, but put a number in front so they always stay that way. Works on both my ibook and my Dell. Have fun!

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Picasa organizes photos in the order taken

Yes, Picasa automatically organizes photos as they were taken and not by title.
Other advantages are that:
1. You can enhance photos (crop, remove red eye, correct color and exposure, etc.)with Picasa's photo editing features
2. You can easily print photos using Picasa
3. You can easily e-mail photos with Picasa
There are probably other features I didn't mention but it's definitely worth checking it out.

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I like your idea

I do the same thing you do except that I put the date at the end of the name. I find that I can remember the subject / occasion but never remember the exact date. But you idea definately keeps the files in a more cronological order. I'm considering changing the foldernames to your suggestion.

I have used several photo programs and it seems that many create their own structure and some create their own file format as well. I find that the My Documents\My Pictures is the best compromise for two reasons:

1. All photos are stored in the same place, no matter which program I use.

2. I back up my profile regularly. Everything under the folder in the c:\Documents and Settings\USERID all get backed up together. This includes all my important documents, not just the photos. (For this I bought an external USB drive case and put one of my older drives in it when I upgraded my system)

Whatever folder format or application you choose to use
is not as important as knowing where the files are and then backing them up regularly. And as soon as I upload any pictures from my camera I immediately copy them to a CD-RW as a primary backup (essentially I always have two copies of my pictures). In 20+ years of owning personal computers, I have *never* been pre-warned of a system crash or hard drive failure, but I've always been prepared for it.

Remember this; your data is only as good as your last backup!


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Amish Computing

I may as well jump in with my two cents. As a full-time computer consultant for 10 years I've done it all, seen it all. I'm constantly looking for a new and better way, with "better" being defined as simpler and/or more efficient. In the entire area of file organization and management, there seems like a million (and may be!) programs out there that are going to "help" you with this or that. Most, in and of themselves are good or even great. The "free" ones often contain Spyware or bait you to buy the paid versions. In the area of digital imaging, every printer, scanner, and camera comes with some number of programs to help with image or file organization or management; most are the "Lite" versions.

The point is, in the technology world, what's hot today is often forgotten tomorrow, or worse, out of business tomorrow. Sometimes even the VERY best programs are abandoned by being forced out by Microsoft and others. It's survival of the fittest in this industry. It's easy for a programmer to get attention and win awards for the hottest new product, but will they hang in there through thick and thin when competition comes knocking. I have more examples than anyone wants to hear.

So, when you jump at the hottest thing going, either because you saw it advertised or it came "free" with a product, and then invest an entire weekend at best learning how to use it and getting your "stuff" just like you want it (but never 100%), you often find out that months or a year later either your product has been abandoned or you find something that out-glitzes what you had, and back to the drawing board you go.

The worst of ALL digital crimes is using a program that convinces you to use a proprietary format to store your files in, like PaperPort using the MAX file extension. PaperPort is actually a great program for functions other than file management (and I'm not picking on PaperPort, I use it). But, let's say you use it for file management, get all of your folders created and files named all anal-retentively, and change the folder icons to be that of your dog's head or your girlfriend, then you burn all of the folders and files to CD for safe-keeping in a safety deposit. If you have a hard drive crash next month and your 10,000 family photos go bye-bye, you'll be the family hero after you go to the safety deposit box and recover the photos. However, if you have a hard drive crash in 10 years, or you just evolve away from PaperPort, or they get bought out or go out of business, will there BE a program that will be able to read the NON-UNIVERSAL file format of MAX? The chances are EXTREMELY slim that you'll be able to find such a program and if you do, you're back to converting your 10,000 files.

So, all of this leads me to my opinion, and remember it's based on 10 or more years of seeing and trying all sorts of options. Don't use ANY special utilities for file management, use good old Windows Explorer, or "File Manager" as it was called in the frontier days. What you're about to read is a philosophy I've used since just after WWI, when I worked only in DOS mode (right after electricity).

1. A computer's hard drive is nothing but a huge filing cabinet. If you know how to use a filing cabinet, you have no excuse for not knowing how to organize your files.

2. A digital file is a file is a file, be it a Word file, Excel file, music file, video file or picture file, just like in the paper world a photograph and a resume' still have to be filed in that filing cabinet.

3. Do NOT use "My Documents" as your main file respository, and why? My Documents is part of your "Profile," and Profiles frequently become corrupt. The reason they are more subject to corruption is they are more secure, especially in XP, where the files in your profile are separated from other users. If your Profile goes, your files go with it. The most common way Profiles get whacked is with uninformed users renaming their username or profile folder for cosmetic reasons, not knowing they just changed the name of King Tut's Vault. If you are HIGHLY vigilent about backing up your Profile and the My Docs stuff, no problem, keep using it, but most people are not and I've heard more crying than I care to about people losing stuff because their profiles became corrupt. In a similar way, I would NEVER save a file or folder on the Desktop as someone suggested. The Desktop is also part of the Profile. Only shortcuts to folders and files should be there. Desktops are even more likely to become corrupt and out go your files again.

4. Create a master data folder at the top of your folder tree called "_DATA" where the underscore forces it to the top of the tree for convenience. If you have a separate partition on your drive, or the best of all worlds a separate physical drive, use THAT for this "_DATA" folder, so "data" is separated from operating system (more opportunity for corruption.

5. Consider this "_DATA" folder your brand new filing cabinet for everything you know about everything. Almost all programs allow you to redirect your default data path, where you can redirect it to this master folder. For example, Quicken defaults to store its data file in the Quicken program folder, a HUGE no-no. Redirect it to "C:\_DATA\FINANCIAL\QUICKEN". Continue on setting up folders as you would your filing cabinet drawers, dividers, folders and files. Start with HUGE categories like BUSINESS & PERSONAL. Then under PERSONAL maybe HOUSE, SCHOOL, FAMILY and so on, you get the idea. Since this thread started by asking about images, off of the root "_DATA" have a folder called IMAGES and subdivide it with the same methodology.

6. As for keeping FILES, including images, organized by when you acquired them, as someone mentioned, you can indeed sort them by Modified or Created Date. However, this only works if you don't later open the file, edit it (even with a space or pixel change), and save it again. Instead, include in the file name how you want them sorted. For example, if you have a folder called FAMILY under the folder IMAGES inside the "_DATA" folder (filing cabinet), create a folder called JETHRO. Under that folder, create folders beginning with the year like "2005-VACATION," "2005-SCHOOL," "2005-SPORTS," and "2005-MISC." Then under "2005-VACATION" put your files and rename them (from your camera's default names of "0000001.jpg," etc.) to Jethro-Beach-Sleeping.jpg, Jethro-Beach-Surfing.jpg, Jethro-Beach-Hang Gliding.jpg, etc.

7. Once you're in the bottom folder (2005-VACATION in our example), to save you having to type "Jethro-Beach-Sleeping.jpg" and the other names over and over, when you're in "FILE SAVE AS" mode from your camera or wherever, carefully click ONCE on the last file you named (Jethro-Beach-Sleeping.jpg), then that file name will appear as the name you want to name the 2nd file you're importing. Before you hit the SAVE button, edit the file name to remove the word "Sleeping" and replace it with the word "Surfing" then SAVE and you're off to the next one, and you're creating a VERY consistent (for the anal-boys out there like me), and retrievable system.

Remember, this system is no different than ANY good filing person would create in a filing cabinet. A good filing system dictates that a stranger could walk up to the filing cabinet and with 1 or 2 seconds find what they are looking for. This has worked for me in the paper world, the DOS computer world and now the Windows world.

Oh, last, try not to be too idiosyncratic with your system. You'll either lose yourself or someone else that's trying to help you (like in an office). In the filing world, vanilla is best.

Sorry if this is too long, but I assure you it works, it will save you a LOT of time and misery, and in 10 years you'll be calling to thank me.

All the best, Jay...

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He's right! Give 'Amish Computing' the attention it deserves


What a great response! You got at SEVERAL really important issues.

I've been using computers about as long as you (but as an amateur), and already do much of what you suggest--but, I learned some facts here on profile loss. I'll be re-organizing, using your "_DATA folder" concept, for sure.

I'll not wait a decade to say it: THANKS, JAY!


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Amish Welcome

Hi David,

I wish I could tell you my methodologies were divinely inspired, but everything I know I've learned the hard way. Once you see yours or worse, a client's profile get wiped for no apparent reason, you'll see that for 95% of the regular PC users out there, the security that XP comes with is VAST overkill, AND, in the hands of someone inexperienced CAN cause you to LOSE data. How's that for irony?

In larger business, that security should be dealt with on a server, but in small business and home use, keep your good stuff OUT of the profile as I described previously. If it's that "secret," or legitimately private like a Quicken file or a personal journal in Word or a financial statement in Excel, all of those programs have the ability to password protect the file, so do that.

The last step in protecting your data is get it OFF the hard drive by any number of means. Floppies are long gone and microscopic in size, CDs are too small relative to music, video and sheer volume of years of computing, and even the new DVDs with high-capacity have to be formatted and burned. Magnetic tape is COMPLETELY unreliable, 1/2 due to the delicate media, 1/2 due to the users' lack of knowledge of how to manage them. However, the best and most bulletproof way to backup your data is with an external hard drive. You can go Firewire or USB, you can get some fancy-schmancy backup "system" or go get an external hard drive case ($30) and a 100-200GB hard drive ($75-$150), and either use a simply DOS XCOPY command with the right switches that runs automatically from Task Scheduler, or use GHOST, or one of a zillion utilities on the Internet to duplicate one drive to the other. I recommend a 100% mirror of your hard drive so you don't forget to backup buried files like Favorites or INI files that hold precious setup or license info in the Windows folder.

While I mentioned Ghost as an option, and it is a great program, back to my Amish philosophy in my previous message, I like the XCOPY command better because in the year 2025, the GHOST "GHO" extension may no longer be readable if Symantec goes belly-up or Larry Ellison takes over Microsoft(unlikly but hey!). Before someone jumps me and says, "how do you know DOS will still be readable in 2025?" I don't, but I plan to check-in to the old folks home with a Pentium 4 running Windows XP just in case! Heck, if it all goes south, call me. I've got every program I every purchased since the original IBM PC came out, some of it on 5-1/4" disks (yes I have a 5-1/4" drive too!).

Sorry, got carried away, back to file management. Next, create a FOLDER on the external drive called "_BACKUPS", and use MS Backup (buried on the XP CD) to create a 100% backup job for each of 7 days (Monday.bks, Tuesday.bks, etc.) so you're covered if you don't discover corruption for a couple of days after it happens. Use Task Scheduler again to run the backup and schedule it far enough away from the DOS XCOPY so they don't overlap. However, once you do the XCOPY the first time, the "/D" switch causes XCOPY to only copy new and edited files, which takes only a few minutes! Remember, the "mirror" I describe above backs up bad stuff too, so you need a way to go back to previous versions of files in the event you screw up or lightning strikes, corrupting your "mirror." A lot of people think the "Restore" feature of XP restores their personal data files in the event of corruption, it doesn't. It only "attempts" to restore system files and isn't always able to do that. There is so much false security out there it's not funny.

Last but not least, to the degree you have all of the world's secrets on your system or live with someone that likes to play with matches in their sleep, you'd want to have TWO of the external hard drives described above, then rotate them daily or weekly and get the other one out of your home or office.

With this setup, you're ready for digital Armageddon!

Party on, Jay...

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I've already implemented most of your excellent suggestions, maybe even overdone it. I've lived through one corrupted user profile, but fortunately a backup of the Docs & Settings folder (even corrupted) allowed me to retrieve most of my data after deleting and recreating the profile. I redirect all of the users' ''My Documents'' folders to a separate ''Data'' partition (also have an Apps partition) with separate folders for each user. Then I do unattended incremental backups to a second internal HD ''Backup'' partition of the Data and System partitions nightly for six days, using both Dantz Retrospect Professional and Norton Ghost. Each backup sequence is recycled on the eigth night after a 24 hour pause to allow assessment for corruption or unstable behavior. The baseline image for each program is burned to DVD, with alternate copies rotated out of home office.

All of that said, your comments on proprietary file formats aroused my innate paranoia once again. Just because these two companies have been around for more than 10 years (Dantz just bought by EMC2 and Symantec growing by buying Veritas), I am considering including the Windows XP backup utility (is it the same as MS backup?)in the mix. Would this be more durable?

As regards XCOPY, where can I find a discussion of its use? Also, once the copy is made, how do you ''restore'' form the remote ''XCOPY'' file to the original or new HD?

Finally, would incremental backups of vital data with Windows backup, similar to the /D switch of XCOPY, be sufficient, thereby saving a great deal of HD space. If you wish, you can reply to my e-mail at: Thanks.

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Hi Ken,

First, in my book, there's no such thing as "overdoing" it when it comes to backups. Once you've rebuilt data sets by searching for files buried here and there, or dug around in the dark world of hackers looking for tools to break into your own system to unlock something that got wiped, you'll realize that to operate without SEVERAL types of backups is like... well... I have an example but I think I'll keep it to myself.

While your procedure sounds great and you're more than covered for the next few years, you do indeed lack the ability to retrieve data in the future, or if a proprietary utility goes out of business after you've upgraded to Windows XYZ.

While there's certainly no guarantee Microsoft will remain king on the hill forever, odds are, at least for now, they will. So, since we've got to bet on someone, may as well bet on them in terms of an actual backup program like MS Backup. Yes, MS Backup is the same as XP Backup, though there really IS no XP Backup, why I don't know. It's not even included in the standard install of XP. However, you can find it on the XP install CD. I'm not where I can look it up, but search for the file "ntbackup.msi." The reason you want to use a "real" backup program along with XCOPY is that a real backup program does better with the security features of Windows, where XCOPY sees everything as just files (more in a second on that). XCOPY is PERFECT for all data files, and has some limitations with certain program and security files. However, better to HAVE the security file than not, even if it requires some manual reconstruction to get things going again on the program side.

The procedure would be to setup MS Backup to do a FULL system backup, excluding junk folders (TEMP, CACHE, etc.) once per week, then, as you suggest, an incremental backup the other six days. You would schedule these using Task Scheduler. If you want more protection, have a second full backup called "FULL Backup 2" on say the next Sunday, and another 6 days of incrementals, then you have a two-week cycle of backups. Remember (to others that might be reading), backups backup corruption too, so overwriting a backup daily isn't worth much. Do this to a separate partition or best a separate physical drive.

The value of XCOPY is two-fold. It enables you to archive files into the future on hard drive, CD, DVD, etc. with no worry about proprietary formats. Yes, the system files wouldn't do you any good if we're using Windows XYZ by then, but the more important data files would be there in their native format. While it's a guess, we have to assume that certain file types will be with us forever, or there will be converters to convert them forever. This would include DOC, XLS, TXT, MPG, AVI, MP3, and with images TIF, JPG, BMP. So, if you're concerned about saving the family records, save them in formats we can likely read 10-20 years out.

The other value of XCOPY is it literally just makes a copy, a virtual mirror, of ALL of your files from one drive/folder to another, good, bad or ugly. If you accidentally saved over a 25-page proforma, without having to know anything about restoring, or go through the process, you can just browse to your XCOPY destination and retrieve the good file.

As far as XCOPY goes, yes, the "/D" switch will backup all files new or edited since the last time the batch file ran. You can add a date to the switch ("/d:mm-dd-yy") and it will do the same since that date. I just use the "/D" by itself.

As for discussion, it's likely out there, but go to a DOS window and type "XCOPY /?" (no quotes) and you'll see the various switches available. I guess it's an understatement, or is it, to say that XCOPY should be setup in a batch file (BAT), then executed using TASK SCHEDULER in Windows. Below is the batch file I use. Note that YOU MUST USE QUOTES AROUND THE ENTIRE PATH of the source and destination path or you will NOT GET LONG FILE NAMES. If you don't want the entire drive, you can just add the path to the files you do want.


@echo off
xcopy "C:\*.*" "Q:\" /d /s /e /c /y /i /h /r /k

@echo off /i = assume destination drive must be a directory with no prompt
@echo off /s = copies all subdirectories
@echo off /e = copies empty subdirectories
@echo off /r = overwrites read-only files
@echo off /c = continues copying even if errors occur
@echo off /h = copies hidden and system files
@echo off /y = overwrites existing files without prompting
@echo off /k = copies attributes, normal XCOPY will reset read-only attributes
@echo off /d:mm-dd-yy = copies only files added or edited since entered date
@echo off /d = copies only files added or edited since last time batch file ran


Hope that helps! Party on, Jay...

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One Question

Jay, in doing what you say to move stuff out of the My Doc folder, do you move everything out of there or jus t pictures and other documents you have saved there. I am a little confused on what to do. Thanks Mike

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Amish computing...I won't wait 10 years, I'll thank you now.

This is off the subject of photo organization, but I wanted to say Thank You Jay for jumping on a soapbox and giving out some good ole' common horse sense! I do not have your computing experience but I have been around awhile and have learned a few lessons of my own, sometimes the hard way. Every time somebody asks me 'where did it go' or 'how do I find...', I want to scream in their face.. learn how to use your computer! My patience wears thin sometimes. Since the first day that computers went from DOS black screens to point and click, people began doing it the easy way with no thought of what they were doing and why. As for organization? Well, duh, thats what folders are for! Just like you said but much more eloquently than I.

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Toaster Mentality

I don't think I directly replied to your post... sorry. You are correct about people not learning how to use their computer. It's what I call the "toaster mentality," where they want to just put bread in, push the button and get the toast out without ever having to learn anything! It's a nice idea, but I don't see that happening for a long, long time. And, worse than not learning about your computer is doing things to it THINKING you know! The best people I work with are the ones that know what they know, and know what they don't know. If you don't know, don't push buttons! It's not rocket science, at least the part that would make you proficient as a user, but you have to LEARN. The reason I jumped in on the file management thread is that to me, that's the FIRST thing to learn! Where are my files, how did they get there, and how can I organize them? If you can do that, you're a long way down the road toward using your computer.

Party on, Jay...

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